At its February 14th meeting, the Alameda Planning Board held a Housing Element workshop for the Board and the public to review and comment on a proposed zoning code amendment to permit and encourage housing development along Park and Webster Streets to accommodate the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA).
The Housing Element is Alameda’s Housing Plan which the City is updating for the 2023-2031 period. The City must identify lands to accommodate over 5,353 new units during this period per State of California RHNA requirements.
Despite long-standing policy to encourage residential, mixed-use on Park and Webster Streets, no one has built new housing in either area since the adoption of the multi-family prohibition in 1973. City Planning staff estimates that 250 new units could be built if the City adopts zoning amendments to remove constraints to multi-family housing along these corridors.
The draft amendments would encourage and facilitate housing by:
- Permitting multi-family housing
- Permitting shared housing, transitional housing, supportive housing, senior assisted living, and low barrier navigation centers by right
- Eliminating residential density standards to encourage smaller residential units; and
- Modifying existing height limits to support multi-family housing
The draft amendments proposed adjusting the height limits as follows:
- Park Street: Increase the height limit for side streets from 40 to 60 feet since promising housing opportunities are on the side streets. The current zoning is already 60 feet for properties facing Park Street.
- Webster Street. Maintain a 3-story, 45-foot height limit in the historic core area (Central to Lincoln) and allow gradual height increases for each block radiating from the core.
Public comment generally supported concentrating increased housing density along non-historic sections of Park and Websters Streets. These areas are walkable and on AC Transit bus lines, and increased foot traffic would add new customers for local businesses.
Linda Asbury of the West Alameda Business Association (WABA) noted that the Planning staff worked with WABA to develop proposed height limits for Webster Street. However, the staff proposal did not precisely match WABA’s recommendations. She asked the Board to recommend to City Council that the zoning amendments conform to WABA’s proposals and said, “We are trying to avoid a sunless wind tunnel in our district.”
Christopher Buckley of the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society (AAPS) also urged a three-story height limit for the historical portions of Park and Webster Streets, saying taller buildings in those areas would compromise the areas’ sense of time and place.
However, Harvey Rosenthal, the owner of Neptune Plaza shopping center, objected to Neptune Plaza’s height being the same as the Webster Street historic core. He said that its 1990s design is not historical, and Central Avenue traffic separates the Plaza from the core. He requested zoning to allow five housing stories over the commercial ground floor.
Andrew Thomas, Planning, Building, and Transportation Director, clarified that the staff’s proposal compromised between WABA’s and Mr. Rosenthal’s requests.
Board members debated whether Neptune Plaza should be part of the shopping center zone, which would allow it to build more housing, or the Webster Street zone. They also discussed whether there should be consistent or tailored height limits for Park and Webster Streets and the possibility of doing shadow studies.
All generally agreed that the City should allow multi-family housing along Park and Webster Streets and that the current standard of 21 units per acre is too low.
Planning staff will continue to work with the downtown business association and WABA and review all comments received to create a second draft zoning proposal.